FORGIVING OUR FATHERS


Taos Man 2
“Taos Man” stoneware sculpture by kayti sweetland rasmussen

“Forgiving Our Fathers” poem by Dick Lourie

Maybe in a dream; he’s in your power
you twist his arm but you’re not sure it was
he that stole your money you feel calmer
and you decide to let him go free

or he’s the one (as in a dream of mine)
I must pull from the water but I never
knew it or wouldn’t have done it until
I saw the street-theater play so close up
I was moved to actions I’d never before taken

maybe for leaving us too often or
forever when we were little maybe
for scaring us with unexpected rage
or making us nervous because there seemed
never to be any rage there at all

for marrying or not marrying our mothers
for divorcing or not divorcing our mothers
and shall we forgive them for their excesses
of warmth or coldness shall we forgive them

for pushing or leaning for shutting doors
for speaking only through layers of cloth
or never speaking or never being silent

in our age or in theirs or in their deaths
saying it to them or not saying it –
if we forgive our fathers what is left.

Taos Man

Advertisements

AMERICAN POMPEII


It’s wonderful how one idea can lead to another even greater idea. The human brain is remarkable in its ability to shift gears without actually stripping the original intention.

The young George Lucas, had lost the confidence of the movie studio after the cool reception of his first movie. For inspiration he looked to an Italian movie about four teenagers from a small town who talk about leaving for Rome but never do.

Tempting as this might be, the 29 year old was also dreaming about making a new Flash Gordon” movie. He thought about how great it would be to see Flash Gordon on the big screen in full living color. It had been filmed in black and white several times.

As a young child the Flash Gordon game was a favorite. Since I was the only girl in my neighborhood, I was relegated to being Dale Arden with the ice-cream cone chest, when I really wanted to be Flash Gordon.

One night Lucas and his friend producer Gary Kurtz were at a diner and talking randomly about how the science fiction movies hadn’t really been enjoyable since Forbidden Planet” in 1955. They all seemed to have gone to genre horror movies like Creature From the Black Lagoon” or alien invasions. They both decided that none of that was fun any more the way “Flash Gordon” and Buck Rogers” had been.

Lucas made a trip to New York in 1971 to visit King Features to inquire about the film right to “Flash Gordon”. The King executives were thinking about the film rights too and mentioned the Italian director Frederico Fellini who was also a known Flash Gordon fan. Lucas knew he could not compete with Fellini at this point in his career.

As in so many creative right turns, this set off a lightbulb in Lucas’s brain, and he began dwelling on the vague notion he had had for years of making something even better than Flash Gordon. If he couldn’t do Flash Gordon he would just invent his own.

American Graffiti
George Lucas on set of American Graffiti in 1973

In the meantime though, Lucas needed a way to make a more bankable movie in order to pay for a movie about space flight. If Fellini was to take Flash Gordon” maybe he could take something from Fellini—for instance, the idea behind the movie I Vitelloni, about the four teenagers in the small town who talk about leaving for Rome but never do. What if you followed a bunch of guys on the cusp of leaving a small town, and follow them through one night of cruising—a ritual that had died out in the last decade?

Lucas would set his version in the summer of 1962, the moment everything changed for him at the ago of 18, and end it with a car crash. Set in a small town much like his own boyhood Modesto, California, it had flavors of autobiography.

He came up with a semi-Italian title: American Graffiti. It sounded odd to contemporary ears. The Italian word had not yet gained common currency. New York subway trains were about a year away from spray-painted signatures. Lucas hadn’t intended that debased usage of the word in any case; he meant the word invented at Pompeii in 1851 that means nostalgic etchings. He wanted to record the legacy of a lost decade: an American Pompeii, frozen in time forever.

Lucas’s encapsulation of space journeys were still to come.

BIRD BY BIRD


garage books

I know what you’re thinking: “what’s so special about a garage full of books?”, and you’d be right. But I have an attachment for this overflow of books which won’t fit inside my house. I have come to realize that I can go into nearly every room in my house and lay my hand on a book, and we are nearly out of room. Many of these books are comprised of old paperback classics I pick up at thrift stores. The iPad offers another library, so I can stop obsessing about the thrift store contributions.

When the prospect of writing overwhelms you and causes you to procrastinate, as it surely does to everyone, one of my favorite authors has some good advice. Her advice seems applicable to all types of projects beyond writing—and to life itself.

Anne Lamott is a Bay Area author and teacher who tells it like it is and leaves you with the feeling that if you do it her way everything will turn out OK.

The first useful concept is the idea of short assignments. Often when we sit down to write we don’t have a clue what to write about. Would anyone be interested in our childhood, our family history, or does it even need to be about ourselves? But this is like trying to climb a glacier. It’s hard to get your footing, and your fingertips get all red and frozen and torn up. You begin backspacing whole sentences and then whole paragraphs. This simply isn’t a good writing day and no one will read it anyway. You’re panting like a lapdog and making slow asthmatic death rattles. You breathe slowly and try to decide whether or not you’re too old for this sort of thing. Painting was easier, and sculpture was even more so. I was happy all the time and didn’t care if anybody liked what I made. You reach the point where you sit and notice the dust on the table next to your desk, and wonder if you should return the phone call you got two days ago.

Then, if you have listened to Anne Lamott’s advice you remember the short assignments. She keeps a one-inch picture frame on her desk to remind her that all she needs to bite off for the time being is the amount she can see through a one-inch picture frame. That’s it.

E.L. Doctorow once said that ‘writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.’ You don’t have to see where you’re going, y0u don’t have to see your destination or everything you will pass along the way. You just have to see two or three feet ahead of you. This is right up there with the best advice about writing or life, I have ever heard.

As I look at all these books, old or new, I realize that each of these authors may have had a one-inch picture frame on their desk, so I polish up my own picture frame.

Lamott’s favorite story is of her older brother, who, at ten years of age had a report on birds he was supposed to have had three months to write. He had wallowed in procrastination until the report was nearly due when he was overcome by tears. Their father sat down beside him, put his arm around his small shoulder, and said. ‘Bird by bird, buddy, just take it bird by bird.”

FATHERS


This weekend we honor our fathers. As in the case of mothers, it is a shame to remember our progenitors only one day a year. For good or bad, our memories of parents obviously vary from person to person. Do we ever get what we want or deserve in a single person? I don’t think so. Nobody is perfect, and it would be a strange world if they were. We all have our little quirks and foibles like it or not.

This is an excerpt from Steve Martin’s book “Born Standing Up: A Comic’s Life”. Steve Martin happens to be a favorite of mine, so it was a pleasure to read a little of his story.

Steve Martin
Steve Martin

“My father,—died in 1997 at age eighty-three, and afterward his friends told me how much they loved him. They told me how enjoyable he was, how outgoing he was, how funny and caring he was. I was surprised by these descriptions, because the number of funny or caring words that had passed between my father and me was few. — When I was seven or eight years old, he suggested we play catch in the front yard. This offer to spend time together was so rare that I was confused about what I was supposed to do. We tossed the ball back and forth with cheerless formality.

My father was not impressed with my comedy act. After my first appearance on Saturday Night Live, he wrote a bad review of me in his newsletter for the Newport Beach Association of Realtors, of which he was president. “His performance did nothing to further his career.’ I believe my father didn’t like what I was doing in my work, and was embarrassed by it. Perhaps he thought his friends were embarrassed by it, too, and the review was to indicate that he was not sanctioning this new comedy. Later, he gave an interview in a newspaper in which he said, ‘I think Saturday Night Live is the most horrible thing on television.’ But as my career progressed, I noticed that my father remained uncomplimentary toward my comedy, and what I did about it still makes sense to me. I never discussed my work with him.

Years later, just before my father’s death, I was alone with him in his bedroom; his mind was alert but his body was failing. He said, almost buoyantly, ‘I’m ready now.’ I sat on the edge of the bed, and a silence fell over us. Then he said, ‘I wish I could cry, I wish I could cry.’

At first, I took this as a comment on his condition, but am forever thankful that I pushed on. ‘What do you want to cry about?’ I said.

“For all the love I received but couldn’t return.’

I felt a chill of familiarity.

There was another lengthy silence as we looked into each other’s eyes. At last, he said, ‘You did everything I wanted to do.’

‘I did it for you,’ I said. Then we wept for the lost years. I was glad I didn’t say the more complicated truth; ‘I did it because of you.’

ALASKA, THE WILD COUNTRY


grizzly

Every fisherman or hunter has a few bear stories to tell around the campfire meant to raise the hairs on the back of your neck before bedtime. Some stories are humorous, some scary. The bear is usually the winner. One story told of a large old grizzly who snatched an unsuspecting salmon out of the water with one swipe of a large paw spiked with five inch claws. Not feeling especially hungry, he tossed the fish into the air, caught it and tossed it again and again until there was not much left of the poor salmon, and then calmly walked away leaving the shattered fish for the birds. It is well known that bears also like berries, and spend a great deal of time nibbling wild blueberries and other tasty berries. Blueberry bushes are small the further north you go in Alaska, and an impatient bear frequently simply rips the entire bush out of the ground to hurry the process.

Once at Lake Shasta in California, we watched some people on a houseboat toss some meat to a waiting bear on the shore. As they were floating away, the bear, seeing his food source depart, plunged into the lake and began to swim after the boat, which was by that time filled with frightened and screaming tourists. Since he could not catch the boat, the bear finally went back up onto the shore and began tearing all the bushes up in his frustration.
grizzly2

We had been following the Kobuk river for most of the morning, alone in a vast Alaska wilderness of scraggly spruce and quaking aspen, beside water the clearest and purest I had ever seen. As the riffles rushed over rocks half submerged, the water caught the sunlight and deflected it back into our eyes

In the deep green pools sockeye salmon, red in their spawning coloration, sluggishly dragged their tired bodies over the gravel at the bottom. Above them, small grayling flickered nervously in and out. Other than the beauty of our surroundings, our fishing excursion had yielded nothing save a few grayling which we returned to the water.

Though I heard no sound, and saw nothing out of the ordinary, I had a disturbing feeling that we were no longer alone. The forest was silent; there was no longer the sound of birds chattering in the trees. In the slight breeze the late summer aspen leaves had turned yellow and were beginning to drop into the river. It gave the impression of expectancy; as if the forest was on alert, waiting for something to happen. We felt a sudden chill in the air and decided to retrace our steps back to our base camp.

When inquiring about the weather in Alaska, a native might shrug his shoulders and say “If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes.” The trail alongside the river was damp from a recent shower, and in the wet weeds and dirt, we began to see the tracks of an unwelcome follower, obviously hoping we could supply him or her with a salmon dinner. Though we walked a mile or two there was no sign of our companion, and before long the tracks disappeared into the woods.

grizzly 3

“This was his country, clearly enough. To be there was to be incorporated, in however small a measure, into its substance–his country, and if you wanted to visit it you had better knock.

His association with other animals is a mixture of enterprising action, almost magnanimous acceptance, and just plain willingness to ignore. There is great strength and pride combined with a strong mixture of inquisitive curiosity in the make-up of grizzley character. This curiosity is what makes trouble when men penetrate into country where they are not known to the bear. The grizzley can be brave and sometimes downright brash. He can be secretive and very retiring. He can be extremely cunning and also powerfully aggressive. Whatever he does, his actions match his surroundings and the circumstance of the moment. No wonder that meeting him on his mountain is a momentous event, imprinted on one’s mind for life.”

“excerpt” from “Coming Into the Country” by John McPhee

ONE OF LIFE’S FINAL INSULTS


fashionista

There is no point in reminding people that Life is no longer fair. We all know that, and each day the scales become balanced in the other guy’s favor. The fashion scale favors the tall, thin and young. I am thin, but not tall and not particularly young.

High school reunions bring out the hope of putting in an appearance so elegant it will make the entire class wish they had been nicer to you when they had the chance. It’s only human nature.

Though not in San Francisco, Nordstrom is the best we have to offer on our side of the Bay, and I had expectations which after an hour or two were dashed into disappointment.

Clothing today is targeted to the very young and athletic, and in many cases untidy. I covered all departments of the store including the infants and lingerie, and decided that though I was willing to buy, there was nothing crying out for my credit card. The woman who has been my personal shopper for years is approaching retirement, and realizes that high quality elegant clothing is no longer selling.

Lately my husband and I have been watching and re-watching the 1920’s themed TV series “Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries”. The murders are suitably bloody, the 1920’s music is charming, Miss Fisher is adorably spunky, but over and above all that, the CLOTHES are a fashion triumph. But do they offer any of these garments in the local department stores? Not at all.

We have a large community of Asian people whose women are short, thin and a variety of ages, all of whom are usually well-turned out. I need to make friends and find out where they shop for clothes.

Meanwhile we will be attending my 70th High School reunion, and it really won’t make a bit of difference what I wear—it’s not really about the clothes.